Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z2 Review
The DiMAGE Z2 is Minolta's second compact "super zoom" digicam, it follows the popular 3-megapixel DiMAGE Z1 of last year and raises the resolution up to 4.0 megapixels. The Z2 offers a full range of exposure modes from automatic to manual plus five pre-programmed scene modes. The Z2 can operate as a simple point-n-shoot for the beginner or "casual tourist" yet has the advanced features that will satisfy the creative urges of the advanced user.
The Z2's main feature is its powerful GT 10X optical zoom that ranges in focal length from 38 to 380mm in 35mm equivalence. If your shooting needs exceed the 38-380mm range, Minolta offers an optional ZCW-100 0.75x wide-angle converter lens which extends the wide angle coverage to 28mm. The lens operates smoothly and produces sharp images throughout its zoom range, but exhibits some barrel distortion at the wide-angle extreme. The lens is fairly fast with a maximum aperture of F2.8 (wide) to F3.7 (tele) which allows for the use of higher shutter speeds. But the lens is not stabilized, so handheld shooting at full telephoto may result in blurry images at lower shutter speeds. We recommend the use of a tripod or monopod for long telephoto shooting. While Minolta claims a 40x range by combining the 4x digital and 10x optical zooms, we recommend that you avoid the digital zoom because it degrades image quality; if you need to enlarge a portion of an image, you'll achieve better quality by cropping in an image editor.
The Z2's shooting performance is very good. From power up to the first image captured measured approx. 2.7 seconds, most of which is requuired to extend the lens. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was an impressive 1/10 second when pre-focused, and 4/10 second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot delay averaged around 1 second in single frame mode. The Continuous and Progressive modes captured five shots in an average of 2.5 seconds. These results were obtained using a Sandisk Ultra II 512MB SD memory card with the camera set to 2272x1704 image size and Fine quality. Sports shooters will enjoy 2 modes of rapid shooting: Continuous, which is a standard burst capture mode, and Progressive, which captures images continuously at about 2 frames per second but saves only the last 5 frames when the shutter is released. When shooting in either continuous mode, record times will vary depending on lighting, ISO speeds, etc. Unfortunately, the viewfinder blanks out momentarily inbetween each frame captured which often made it difficult to follow fast-moving subjects.
The vast majority of our test images were sharp, well exposed and properly saturated. You'll get great results in auto or "P" mode and the pre-programmed scene modes will help you out in special situations. The Z2 has a moderate wide-angle field of view, and its builtin flash has a powerful range (when in Auto ISO) of up to 20 feet. You won't be able to illuminate an entire dance floor, but your indoor living room shots and group portraits should please you. If you need more range than the built-in flash provides, you can attach the Minolta Maxxum Program Flash 5600 HS, Flash 3600 HS or 2500D to its top-mounted flash hot shoe.
The Z2 features an impressive macro capability. You can see examples of the difference between normal Marco mode and Super Macro mode on our sample pictures page. In low ambient light, both the LCD and its reflected viewfinder image were easy to view, the autofocus was a little better than average in low light. However, it will fail if the light level is too low or if your subject lacks the necessary contrast. It lacks an AF illuminator and we feel that these lamps should be standard on all digicams. We found the LCD viewfinder quite usable outdoors, even in bright sunlight. Its high refresh rate provided a high-quality real-time preview of moving subjects, and its viewfinder image reflected by the Switch Finder allowed for easy panning.
The Z2 has an exceptional movie mode and allows you to capture motion video at sizes of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120 at either 15 or 30 frames per second. The Z2 is the first digicam to also offer a 15 frames per second SVGA (800x600) movie option. In addition, the Z2's autofocus system operates continuously during movie capture. You can also enable the Optical zoom option in the Movie record menu to use the 10x optical zoom while you are recording a movie. Be careful with this option as the focusing system has difficulty keeping up with the zoom lens. We recommend you set the focal length before recording, and if you're going to use the zoom, do it slowly.
The Z2 is powered by 4 standard AA batteries, alkaline type can be used however we recommend using high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries. We found the battery life quite acceptable, capturing over 200 images from a single set of 2300mAh NiMH rechargeables when using the camera's power-saving features.
Minolta's DiMAGE Z2 is excellent for those needing speedy performance, good image quality, and a "Big" zoom in a compact and lightweight digital camera. This camera combines a long focal length 10x zoom lens and a high resolution 4.0 megapixel imager with a robust focusing system and creates great images. The 4.0 million pixel images yield beautiful, high-quality 8 x 10" photo prints. In addition, the DiMAGE Z2 records high-quality 30fps 640x480 movies, as well as screen-filling 800x600 size movies. With a street price of around $449, the Minolta Dimage Z2 is a definite winner.
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